This story is a sequel to my stories , Fast Break and Footsteps (Ghost Towning) . You may want to read the preceding stories before reading this one. Fast Break and Footsteps (Ghost Towning) can be found on my on my website – mickeyminner.com
Thursday morning, Pat sat behind her desk studying several sheets of paper filled with descriptions of the rookies' abilities, attitudes, and general observations of her own and her assistant coaches. Dropping the pages onto her desk, she looked over it to Sherry and Kelley. "Unfortunately, it looks like a few haven't lived up to expectations," she told them. "Some of the cuts tomorrow look to be pretty obvious."
"I really expected more from some of them, Coach," Kelley said with a sigh.
"Jackson being one?"
"Yeah. I know she has the talent… but damn if I know how to bring it out."
"Sometimes, you just can't," Pat observed. "I'll need your recommendations for cuts by the end of the day. I want time tomorrow to check them out myself."
Sherry looked down at her clipboard scanning the notes made on the rookie guards she had been working with for the past three days. "Coach…" she said scratching her head. "Well… it's just… I'm wondering…"
"Spit it out, Sherry," Pat urged.
Sherry raised her eyes to meet Pat's. "Okay, here goes… I know when I was in college that I used to hate the endless drilling. I got to where I would sorta turn my brain off and run through them on automatic. But give me a game and I was really into it. I'm just wondering if-"
"Some of these kids might be doing the same?" Pat finished the thought for her assistant coach.
"That makes some sense," Kelley spoke up. "Think about it, Coach. Most of these kids played at colleges where they were the stars. They knew no matter what they did in practice, come game day, they'd be on the court."
Pat leaned back in her chair to consider their comments. "So, you think it might do some good to put them in actual game situations and see if they step it up?"
"It can't hurt," Kelley responded with a shrug while Sherry nodded in agreement. "And it might actually help in the reverse, too. Just like some players stink at practice, some are great at practice then freeze in games. I've got a couple I'm on the fence with; they're outstanding running through the drills but something is making me doubt what they could do if the game was on the line. It would be nice to be able to see how they might handle that."
"Wouldn't you be able to evaluate that next week when we normally start game situations?"
"I guess so. But I'd really hate to find out I recommended cutting the wrong player."
"Could we wait on the first cuts?"
"I can't do that, Sherry."
"Could we give it a try today, Coach?" Kelley asked. "We can always go back to drills tomorrow."
Pat chewed her lip while she considered changing up her normal training camp routine. "Alright," she finally said. "I guess we need to do something to kick start some of them. But, if we do this, I need the two of you to do things differently today. Sherry, you need to put on your coach's hat, no playing. I want you both in the stands on opposite sides of the court. I'll work the players and you'll put together scouting reports on each rookie. We'll discuss what you have this afternoon after we release the players for the day." Pat reached up to rub her temples. "Damn, I hate this part of coaching."
"Right there with you," Sherry muttered.
Pat glanced at the clock. "Okay, let's get the day started," she said pushing herself up out of her chair. "Hopefully, the players have managed to find their way to the court by now. Please make note of any that haven't."
Pat walked out from the corridor and stood for a moment observing the players scattered about the court in small groups. Most were either stretching or shooting baskets but a few were simply standing and waiting. She snagged one of the ball carts parked at that end of the arena and walked with it to the painted Cougar at mid-court. She looked up into the stands to see where Sherry and Kelley were seated then walked to the top of the key and lifted the whistle hanging on a chain around her neck. Three short blasts stopped all movement in the arena.
"All players, down here," Pat called out sternly.
Unlike the roster players who were charging toward their coach at full speed, the rookies, with few exceptions, were trotting to her end of the court. Seemingly unconcerned, two rookies moved leisurely toward her chatting as they walked.
Pat waited until all the players stood between her and the basket then she turned to face where Kelley was seated several rows up in the stands. "Coach Kelley," she barked.
"Yes, Coach," Kelley responded loudly.
"Make note about Wagner and Fisher. They appear to be incapable of running."
"Already noted, Coach."
Pat turned back to face the players and focused her glare on the two chastised rookies who refused to meet her gaze. Then, for several seconds, she allowed her eyes to slowly scan over the rest of the players. "You've been here three days. Most of you have demonstrated that you can pass and shoot. Now I'm going to find out if you can do that in a game situation." As she talked, her eyes continued to move from player to player. "It does me absolutely no good to have a player who can hit the bucket from outside the three point line unless they can do it when we're down to the final seconds and need the points to win. I can't have a player on the court when time is short and our opponents are tossing out fouls if that player can't drop her free throws." Her eyes darted back to Wagner and Fisher still too embarrassed to lift their eyes off their shoes. "And I definitely will not have a player on this team who can't give her teammates one hundred percent effort all the time."
"Some of you have shown you truly want to be a member of the Cougars," Pat continued. "Some of you have only gone through the motions. Let me make this very clear… I don't care how much of a star you were on your college team. Until you prove to me that you're the caliber of player this organization prides itself on having, you will not be here Monday. Tomorrow, if I don't make them sooner," she again looked at the two reprimanded rookies, "I will make the first cuts. What you show me today will have great influence on whether or not your name gets erased from the board. Got it?" she snapped.
"Got it, Coach." Immediately, the roster players roared back while the rookies' voices chimed in a beat later.
"I see some of you haven't been paying attention," Pat noted wryly. "From this point forward, you are to keep an eye on the player list in the locker room. If you find your name has been removed, get your gear, and leave. Stacy, Jade, take defensive positions," she told two of her returning post players then turned and walked to the ball cart at mid-court where she acknowledged a young man sitting patiently at a table set up along the side line. "Light it up, Rob," she instructed.
Rob pushed a button on the large panel in front of him. Instantly, all the arena scoreboards burst into life and a loud buzzer sounded causing several of the rookies to jerk in surprise at the unexpected sound.
Pat turned back to the players. "Let me set this up for you… rookies, you will be put into teams of three. As you can see, there are only twenty seconds left in a tied game. After our opponents scored, we managed to beat all but two defenders down the court. Your job will be to score before time runs out. Dimchek, Leigh, Jackson, you three are up first; take a position at mid court. Everyone else get off the floor." Pat plucked a ball off the cart and began to idly dribble it as the rookies took their positions and the rest of the players moved to the sidelines. "Oh, and one more thing… no dribbling is allowed," she told the rookies with a smile then fired a pass at Dimchek.
Dimchek caught the pass. Unable to dribble, she had to wait for her teammates to move further down the court toward the basket.
Stacy and Jade moved out to guard Leigh and Jackson.
Seeing Jade moving toward her, Leigh abruptly changed directions to sprint at an angle across the court.
Dimchek passed the ball to Leigh then ran toward the key that Jade had just vacated as she followed Leigh.
Closely guarded by Stacy, Jackson worked herself into a position at the side of the key opposite Dimchek.
Leigh stopped, spun around and passed the ball back to Dimchek now unguarded at the top of the key.
Seeing the pass, Jackson took a quick step to the side, planting herself between Stacy and Dimchek and effectively preventing the defensive player from moving out on her unguarded teammate.
Catching the pass, Dimchek turned to the basket; her jump shot dropping through the net just as the buzzer sounded.
Leigh trotted after the ball.
"Good teamwork," Pat told the rookies after Leigh passed the ball back to her. "Stacy, don't let yourself get beat like that again," she scolded her veteran player.
Sherry tried to stretch out her cramped legs within the tight confines of the arena seating. She made another notation on her clipboard then squirmed in her seat hoping for a more comfortable position. The morning session had almost run its course and she was looking forward to the lunch break. She reached down to retrieve her water bottle from where she had placed it next to her feet. "Damn," she muttered after she sat back up. Oh, boy, I really must be hungry, she thought closing her eyes in hopes that would help end the odd sensation that her arena was spinning around her.
A blast from Pat's whistle caused Sherry to open her eyes. She sat, unmoving, for a moment and was pleased to find the momentary dizziness had disappeared. Raising the water bottle to her lips, she took a long drink of the cool liquid.
"That was weird," she told herself then dismissed the memory as she refocused on the players on the court.
"Oh, my god, what a day," Kelley moaned walking into Pat's office. "Damn, those seats are uncomfortable."
"Tell me about it," Sherry concurred walking behind Kelley. "I finally had to move to sitting on the steps. My legs felt like pretzels."
"Take that up with Mac," Pat told her assistant coaches as she entered the room. She walked to her chair, dropping into it with a thud.
"I doubt she'd care," Kelley groused of the team's owner. "We keep winning and she keeps adding seats. Pretty soon the fans will have to put their legs over the shoulders of the ones sitting in front of them."
Pat laughed. "They aren't that bad."
"They are when you have to sit in them for ten hours," Sherry said, her voice somewhat strained as she was bent over at the waist attempting to stretch out her leg muscles. Cautiously, she straightened relieved that she didn't experience any more dizziness.
"Okay, like you said, it's been a long day," Pat said working the brace off her knee. "Let's go over your notes so I can get home to the nice hot tub waiting for me."
"I was rather pleased with many of the rookies," Kelley started. "Especially, Jackson."
"She did appear to be more in tune today," Pat agreed.
"That move she made on Stacy was sweet," Sherry said with a grin.
"So, I guess she's safe for another day," Pat observed. "Let's focus on the ones who didn't do well. Wagner and Fisher come to mind."
"Damn, they're both mine," Sherry groaned. "I hate to admit it but I didn't see anything to impress me today."
"I noticed when they weren't involved in a play, they didn't seem to care what was happening on the court," Kelley commented.
"Yeah. I noticed that, too."
Pat pulled a clean sheet of paper out of her desk drawer and wrote the two rookies' names on it. "Alright, any argument that, unless they show something tomorrow, they're done?"
"Not from me," Kelley answered.
Slumping back in her chair, Sherry blew out a breath. "Bad choices on my part," she muttered frowning.
Pat looked across her desk to her discouraged assistant coach. "Sherry, decisions on players are my responsibility. I don't ever want you, or Kelley, to feel that you're to blame for those."
"But I'm the one who recommended they come to camp," Sherry protested.
"Yes, you recommended; but I decided."
"No. Both you and Kelley made recommendations of rookies to invite. Some are here, some aren't, because of what I decided. Listen, some players work out and some don't. That's just the way it is. We look at their tapes, we study scouting reports and stat sheets; but we never truly know what a player is capable of until we get them in camp and can see for ourselves. Until then, we go on our gut feelings. Sometimes, we just make a bad call."
"I suppose you're right," Sherry said pursing her lips together in frustration.
Pat smiled. "Of course, I'm right. I'm Coach."
"It's hard, Pat," Sherry snapped.
"Don't you think I know that," Pat snapped back. "That's why I don't want you to shoulder that responsibility. Now, who else is going on this list?"
"Damn, it's too bad my coach is such a hard ass about drinking during the season," Sherry proclaimed after pushing open the sliding door leading to the deck attached to the back of the house. "Because I could sure use a beer tonight," she added juggling a large tray as she carefully stepped out onto the wooden surface.
"Need help?" Pat asked. She was already buried up to her chin in the bubbling, steaming water of their hot tub.
"No, dear, you stay right where you are," Sherry said sardonically using her hip to slide the door closed. "I wouldn't dream of asking you to leave your little haven."
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
Glaring at her grinning lover, Sherry carried the heavy tray over to the hot tub and set it down on the low table positioned beside it. "I was too tired to do much more than slap together some sandwiches," she said as she stepped into the tub. "Luckily, we had a bag of salad fixings in the fridge. I wasn't sure what kind of dressing you would want so I brought out a couple of different ones."
"Anything would be fine," Pat said as she straightened up then reached for one of the sandwiches.
"How's your knee?" Sherry asked picking up one of the plates heaped high with pre-prepared salad. She grabbed a fork then settled down into the tub leaving only the top of her shoulders exposed as she held the plate just above the surface of the water.
"The knee is fine. Dressing?" Pat offered to retrieve one of the bottles.
Sherry shoved a forkful of lettuce into her mouth then shook her head.
Pat grimaced. "Plain salad. Yuck!"
"But it's healthier without the dressing," Sherry said after swallowing.
"If you say so. Want a sandwich? They're pretty good."
Sherry nodded. "Thanks," she said when Pat carefully placed one onto her plate.
They sat in silence for several minutes as they fed nourishment to their exhausted bodies.
Sherry exchanged her empty plate for one of the water bottles on the tray then settled back into the water. This time she took a seat next to her lover. "Need me to make more sandwiches?" she asked when Pat reached behind her for the last sandwich on the tray.
"No. Want to share?" Pat offered the sandwich to Sherry who took a generous bite. "Well, after that, you might have to," she grumbled.
"Sorry," Sherry mumbled, her mouth full of sandwich. "My cooking duties are over for the day. It's your turn now."
Leaning back against the side of the hot tub, Pat slipped an arm around Sherry and pulled her closer. "If it had been up to me, we'd have gone hungry tonight. I'm too pooped to move."
"So I noticed."
"You feeling better?"
"Uh? About what?"
"About Fisher and Wagner?"
"Oh… yeah. I thought about what you said."
"But, I still feel like I must have missed something."
"Honey, I always second guess my choices. Did I see more than was there? Did I miss something? Was I making a decision because I wanted a player to succeed… or fail? It's not easy to hold someone's future in your hands."
"Do you ever wonder what happens to the players that get cut?"
Pat nodded. "I do. Some want so badly to play pro ball. And when that doesn't happen… anyway, I just hope they go on with their lives… in a good way."
Sherry leaned her head on Pat's shoulder and stared up into the cloudless night sky. "I know I would have been crushed," she murmured looking at the blanket of stars overhead.
"What would you have done?"
"I don't know. I sure didn't want to go back to Arizona. Maybe I would have tried for one of the teams in Europe. At least, I could have seen other countries that way."
"What's wrong with Arizona?" Pat asked intrigued as to why Sherry would not have wanted to return to where she grew up.
"Nothing really… if you like snakes, scorpions, heat."
"But what about the Grand Canyon and the petrified forest; places like Montezuma's Castle and Tuzigoot; and the ruins of the Anasazi?"
Astounded by not only her lover's question but also the intensity of emotion behind them, Sherry twisted her head to look at Pat. "You know about those places? I mean, the Grand Canyon, sure you know about that. But the others?"
Pat smiled and bent her head to kiss Sherry. "I love the National Park Service website," she explained. "Someday, I hope to visit every historical park, monument, and site this country has to offer."
Sherry snuggled closer. "That could take a few years."
"I figured I'd get a nice camper for the pickup and just explore. No timetable. No commitments. Just go when I wanted to go and stop when I wanted to stop."
"You really think so?"
"Oh, yeah. I've always wanted to see the historical places of our country and the world. The pyramids of Latin America and Egypt; Machu Piichu; the castles of Ireland and Scotland; New Zealand."
"Yeah. I fell in love with New Zealand watching Xena."
"I always thought it was so great that they traveled around and saw so much of the world."
"Even though the timelines were a bit mangled?"
Sherry laughed. "You noticed that, too?"
Pat grinned and nodded.
"I thought it would be wonderful to travel the world like them. Maybe some day we can do that."
"I sure hope so," Pat told her. "But I'm not walking and I'm not sleeping on the ground."
"But if we don't sleep on the ground how will we be able to look up at those?" Sherry asked pointing skyward at the twinkling stars.
"We'll get a camper with a skylight."
Sherry stood up then shifted to straddle Pat's legs. "You are sooooo romantic," she warbled before leaning down to capture her lover's lips.
Pat wrapped her arms around Sherry, pulled her into her lap and deepened the kiss. "I love you," she whispered when they were forced apart to breath.
"I love you, too," Sherry whispered back. "Now, please take me to bed before I fall asleep," she said yawning.
Pat managed to stand and pull Sherry up with her then helped her climb out of the tub. As they walked across the deck carrying the remains of their dinner, Pat told her, "Just so you know, I'm not forgiving the 'bad ass coach' comment."
"For the record, I said 'hard' ass." Sherry grinned reaching for that particular part of her lover's anatomy. "And, sweetheart, you have one of the best-"
"Dammit, Sherry," Pat squealed in surprise. "Get you hand off my butt!"